Unease in easy pose

Laura sitting in easy pose on a Hawaiian beachSukasana or easy pose is sometimes decidedly not easy. In fact, it’s name is often a misnomer and holding the pose can be very challenging for anyone who has troublesome ankles, knees, or hips.

Without a block or bolster under my seat, ‘easy pose’ becomes ‘incredibly-hard-and-uncomfortable pose’ for me within a couple minutes. Knee injuries, tight hips, and internal femoral rotation come together to make sitting cross-legged a hard pose to hold when I’m not propped. Which means I’m rarely in sukasana without something tucked under my butt – even if it’s only a folded mat or sweater.

Just about everyone who’s taken a yoga class has done easy pose. It’s often where a practice begins and ends and is the most common position for meditating. If you find sukasana decidedly uneasy, try adding height under your seat – props can make a huge difference!

Easy pose

Why it’s good

  • Stretches knee and ankle joints – and sometimes the hips as well
  • Help strengthen the muscles along your spine (erector spinae) and contributes to good posture
  • Helps calm your mind and manage stress when you hold the pose as part of meditation

How to do it

  • Sit on your mat or the floor, with your buttocks on the edge of a cushion, block, bolster, or folded blanket
    • Sitting on something tilts your pelvis forward and helps your knees come to the floor
    • The higher your seat, the easier it is to relax your hips and soften your knees
  • Bend your knees so they fall to the outside of your body and place one foot in front of the other
    • Avoid crossing your ankles, which puts pressure on the joints
    • Add padding under your ankles and/or feet if they are sensitive or if the floor is particularly hard
    • If your knees aren’t resting comfortably, support them with folded blankets or blocks
  • Find the centre of your seat by moving  back and forth and from side to side

    • You should feel evenly balanced – right and left, front and back
  • Straighten your spine, roll your shoulders back and down, and lift through your collar bones
  • Rest your hands on your knees or thighs or in your lap; relax your hips and legs
  • Feel the crown of your head float up towards the ceiling, connecting you with the sky; feel your sitting bones grow heavy, rooting you into the earth
  • Bring balance to the pose by alternating sides
    • If you’re holding easy pose for a few minutes, switch your front leg halfway through
    • If you’re coming into easy pose multiple times in a practice, change which leg is in front each time

To come out of easy pose:

  • Uncross your legs (using your arms and hands to help if you’d like) and slowly unbend your knees
  • Gently bring movement back into your legs
    • Straighten and bounce your legs
    • Rest the soles of your feet on the mat/floor, bend your knees,  and drop them side-to-side in windshield wipers
  • Carry on with the rest of your practice or the rest of your day

Easy pose externally rotates the hips, so you may wish to counter it with an internally rotated pose like deer (see how to do deer pose on YinYoga.com), although many people feel no need for any counter pose at all.

Gone to the dogs

On Sunday evening, I went to the Healing Circle Meditation at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre, along with 30 or so other people and one dog! My dog, Sofie, is a skilled meditator and has participated in a number of group meditations at Bound Lotus.

During the meditations, which involve chanting mantras and sometimes use mudras (hand gestures), Sofie curls up in front of me and settles into a meditative state of her own. She helps bring out my meditative best and seems to create an even more calming energy for the group. And she loves getting petted and cooed at by students 🙂

Sofie regularly joins me when I practice yoga or meditate at home, so she’s very used to the process. Within minutes of rolling out my yoga mat, she’s on it. Sometimes I can convince her to provide assists, like applying a little pressure to my hips in swan/pigeon pose or letting me use her as a prop in child’s pose. And she’s always willing to rest next to me during savasana.

One of the challenges of any meditation or yoga practice is letting go of all the mental clutter and simply experiencing the present moment. Dogs are masters of ‘now.’ Sofie doesn’t understand ‘later,’ or ‘before,’ she’s entirely in the present. Exactly how I want to be when meditating!

The Healing Circle Meditation is a free monthly event at Bound Lotus. If you or someone you love could use a little healing boost and/or you’re interested in experiencing a group Kundalini meditation look for the next date on the Bound Lotus website. Hopefully Sofie and I will be meditating there with you!

Laura and Sofie stretching together

Change the way you think

If you don't like something change it; if you can't change it, change the way you think about it.

Practicing meditation can be a powerful way to change the way you think.

The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt posits that there are three ways to change your thinking and permanently alter the way you view the world: Prozac (or other similar medications), cognitive behavioural therapy, and meditation.

Meditation is the cheapest and comes with far fewer side effects that medication!

And I highly recommend taking a look at Haidt’s website and reading his book. It’s a scientific approach to why we think the way we do… and how to make ourselves happier.

If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.

Mary Engelbreit

Anti-negativity muffins

Yesterday afternoon I was feeling a bit low and struggling to combat negative thoughts. Needing to raise my spirits before teaching yin yoga at Bound Lotus in the evening, I decided to bake a batch of muffins.

Baking generally distracts me from whatever’s swirling around my brain, but I needed a little something extra to clear those negative thoughts. Cue the Gobinday Mukunday mantra, perfect for overcoming negativity. With SatKirin Kaur Khalsa chanting in the background I stirred my way to more positive thoughts and a dozen muffins.

Listening to meditative music while baking, cooking, or doing dishes is wonderful. I can’t help but start chanting along and it turns into a quasi-meditation as my mind starts to clear.

Combining baking and quasi-meditation was perfect! The muffins are yummy, my negativity cleared, and I had a really lovely time teaching 🙂

Here’s the recipe for my anti-negativity (aka applesauce pecan) muffins.

Applesauce pecan muffins

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup pecans, chopped

Method

  • Preheat oven to 375°F and prepare a 12 cup muffin tin
    • Prepare muffin tin by lining with paper wrappers, inserting silicon muffin cups, or greasing with vegetable oil.
  • Stir together dry ingredients.
  • Combine applesauce, almond milk, maple syrup, oil, vinegar, and vanilla.
  • Stir wet ingredients and pecans into dry ingredients until just mixed.
  • Spoon batter into muffin tins and bake for 15-20 minutes; muffins are done when a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  • Cool on wire racks.

Healing from the heart

I have a couple friends whose mothers are going in for surgery today… and I’m thinking of them.

Loved ones with health problems are one of the many circumstances where we feel powerless to have any kind of impact. We can worry all we want but deep down we “know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum,” to quote Baz Luhrmann in Everybody’s Free.

I’ve started using meditation to channel my energies towards whoever is having health issues and away from my own fretting. I like doing the Kundalini healing meditation, which uses the Ramadasa mantra and an easy mudra (hand or body position).

The mantra is Ra ma da sa; Sa say so hung and all you do is repeat it. There are lots of recordings to chant along with, my favourite is by Snatam Kaur, and I usually chant for 11 or 31 minutes.

To come into the mudra, sit cross-legged (or in easy pose) and bend your elbows into your body; let your forearms fall open over your thighs, with your inner arms facing up. Your palms are flat and facing upwards with your fingers together and thumbs stretched outwards. The mudra is a gesture of receiving.

KundaliniYoga.org has full instructions if you want more details, including an illustration of the position.

I did Ramadasa as a 31 minute meditation with my dad when he was in atrial fibrillation (a-fib), which is persistently elevated heart rate. He had been in a-fib for a few days and medication was not helping his heart convert to its normal rhythm.

I was thrilled that he was open to meditating together, although immeditately after we were done his heart rate was even higher. While I was on my way home from my parents’ place a couple hours later, though, dad called to let me know that his heart had converted back to a normal rhythm and the a-fib had passed.

I’m hesitant to say that the meditation is the reason my dad’s heart reverted to its normal rhythm, but I don’t think it hurt! And at least it made me feel like I was doing something and let dad know that I love him.

So today I’ll send the love and energy from my Ramasada meditation to my friends and their moms… letting them know that I love them ♥

Silence through boredom

The hand gesture of wisdomThe second 40-Day Meditation Challenge of 2012 at Bound Lotus started earlier this week and Sofie and I joined the meditation this morning. The first 40-Day Meditation focused on the first chakra (or energy centre); the second one fittingly concentrates on the second chakra.

The mantra (or meditative phrase) we’re using for this Meditation Challenge is the Kundalini seed mantra: Har hare haree; Wahe guru (pronounced: Har haray haree; Wha-hay guroo – with kind of a silent “d” after the har). We’re repeating the mantra for 11 minutes – chanting along to the version by Gurudass from Longing to Belong. This meditation also involves holding guyan mudra (the hand gesture for wisdom – shown in the photo at right) and moving our arms. It’s a trifecta of techniques for meditative concentration; chanting the mantra, holding the mudra, and repeating the arm movements.

I find manta meditations very effective at clearing my brain and finding internal silence. Chanting the same sounds over and over again pretty much bores my brain to death and stops me from thinking. The Sanskrit syllables don’t connect with any meaning like English words might and my mind starts to let go of everything but the mantra.

Adding in holding a mudra and repeating arm movements, further drives out any thoughts and helps bring my mind to stillness.

I’ve compiled a list of other musical mantras I like for meditation, which are great to chant along with or have playing during meditation. I also like having mantras playing while I do other tasks like food prep or dishes; I often find myself chanting along and finding a bit of stillness as I cook!

Updated meditation music

Some new favourite songs for meditation. Click on the iTunes button to purchase a specific song.

  • Gobinday Mukunday by Sada Sat Kaur Gobinday Mukanday - Mantra Masala
    A quicker, more energizing version of the ”Git ‘er done” mantra. Good for reviving the spirit and enhancing energy.
  • Mul Mantra by Snatam Kaur Mul Mantra - Anand Bliss
    The February Full Moon Meditation at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre was the mul mantra. I think this is the most beautiful version of it – very heart-centred and grounding.
  • Ong Namo – I Bow by Gurunam Singh Ong Namo - I Bow - The Journey Home
    Also called the Adi Mantra, chanting Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo starts off every Kundalini yoga class. It’s a reminder to honour (or bow to) all the teachers that came before and the wisdom that lives within.
  • Pavan Guru – Lord of the Wind by Gurunam Singh Pavan Guru - Lord of the Wind - The Journey Home
    The “May the Force be with You” mantra, Pavan Guru increases energy and stimulates healing.

See the Meditate page for a full list of meditation music I like.